While many farms have failed under the government‘s land reform programme, the Uitenhage-KwaNobuhle Farm community project is providing shelter, food and a steady income for its 55 beneficiaries.
Administrative manager Mlamleli Maseti said failure was not an option for the group.
Besides supplying Port Elizabeth export company Dynamic Commodities with sweet baby peppers, the beneficiaries pride themselves on having developed the 38ha farm into a productive operation.
They supply retailers like the Fruit and Veg and Spar groups, BC Brothers and the Uitenhage and Motherwell markets, as well as hawkers, with fresh vegetables like cabbage, spinach, carrots, green beans and beetroot.
Maseti said the secret to making the farm work was listening to the people. “You can‘t make it without the people. When we started in early 2003 the land was bare. There will always be ups and downs where many people are involved because they bring different minds and backgrounds. But we constantly remind them about the purpose of coming together. It‘s about teamwork and having a good support system.”
Maseti said Dynamic Commodities supplied the farm with sweet baby pepper seedlings, which are planted on 10ha. “The produce that we export is huge and the profit is very good. We get about R4 for 1kg, and we are looking at more than 15 tons a hectare. The sweet baby peppers are ripe and we started harvesting last week. This is agriculture and we do experience ups and downs, but generally we are doing well.”
However, he said the crop had not done quite as well last year, when it was piloted for the first time on 5ha after they had entered into an agreement with Dynamic Commodities.
“It was trial and error last year. In the end we managed to break even – we made a little profit. We made mistakes but we have learned.”
Maseti said the farm employed about 50 permanent staff, which escalated to more than 200 people during harvesting season.
He said the farm‘s success was due to the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, which leases the land to the group, and to other role players like the Uitenhage-Dispatch Development Initiative, VWSA and the Eastern Cape agriculture department, which assisted in various ways.
VWSA donated about R3- million, which the farm accesses in stages. The agriculture department assisted with farming implements, including a tractor, fencing and irrigation infrastructure, while UDDI provided project management expertise.
UDDI project manager Sandile Adam said the farm was divided into two phases. The 20ha first phase is for conventional farming of vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, sweet baby peppers, spinach and beetroot, under drip irrigation.
Phase2 involves organic and greenhouse farming. “We will have high-value crops like tomatoes and cucumbers in greenhouses on about 18ha. We are already putting up fencing and irrigation systems.”